Sunday, August 18, 2013

Surviving Busy at the Start of School

Photo Used With Permission Under a Creative Commons License
As I write this I realize it's been a month since my last post. That's because like most of you (in the United States anyway) I am getting ready for another school year. Although I'm no longer in the classroom, this is still my busiest time of year. The edtech team I am on is trying to plan and deliver quality staff development, help new employees get acquainted with district systems, answer questions from everyone coming back from summer vacation, and the list goes on.

Busy, busy, busy! How do we survive it and still thrive?

I'm not going to give you research backed ideas, but I am going to make some suggestions based on 20 years of experience in education. Many of these are common sense, but I've found in my own life that common sense sometimes flies out the window when deadlines and stress set in. I hope you can take away at least one idea for making it through the start of school.

Here we go, in no particular order:

  • Get your normal amount of rest. Staying up late to finish one more thing can wind up biting you in the end if it makes you too tired to be effective the next day.
  • Be reasonable about the extra amount of time you put in. Are you going to spend some weekend time getting your classroom in order or catching up on all of the questions you are getting in your email? That's reasonable at this time of year, but put a limit on it. Tell yourself you are spending four hours on Saturday at work, and that's it. And stick to it. Make an appointment to meet someone for a meal or coffee or a movie if you have to. It's important not to wear yourself out, and setting a time limit will help you focus on the most important tasks you have to accomplish.
  • Focus on what must be done for the first week of school. What do the kids need to feel secure in your room and to get to know you and each other? What do you need in place to set up routines that will make the rest of the school year go well? Do you really need to plan out the whole first three weeks/six weeks/semester right now? Maybe you should get to know your kids a little before planning too far ahead so that your plans will better meet their academic needs.
  • Martha Stewart isn't going to reward you for your room decorations. I know, your bulletin boards must be perfect. But who is the room for, you or your kids? Will your kids be wowed by the decorations, or will they be more pleased to see empty space waiting to be filled with their creations? I used to put nice paper or fabric and border on each of my bulletin boards, label the board for each class period of students I had, and leave it at that. My kids' work became our decorations for the year.
  • Get help. In my early years of teaching, my mom used to help me set up my classroom each year. She could put up straight bulletin boards and get the wrinkles out of the fabric (I could not). She made index cards for all of the books in my classroom library so the kids could check them out. My mom is no longer with me, and those days she spent helping me are some of my fondest memories.

    Who are the possible helpers in your life? An understanding spouse? A child or grandchild who is old enough and mature enough to be a helper (and not add to your stress). A non-teaching sibling or friend? Former students? A parent? A student member of an organization that requires service hours? The teacher down the hall who is already done with their room? The teacher who is already done and is standing in your room trying to talk with you? (Hand that visiting teacher something to do; they will either help or leave.)
  • When you are sitting in those back-to-school meetings/trainings, wishing you were in your room, try to focus on what is being said. Although you might disagree at the moment, the person running the meeting thinks you need the info that is being shared. Don't add to your stress later by missing out on important information which causes you to not meet deadlines. Have a note pad with you; if something you need to do pops in your head, make note of it for later and put it aside for now.
  • When the tasks seem overwhelming, step outside, take a deep breath (or two or three or four), and think of the kiddos you are about to have the privilege of teaching. Take a ten minute walk, prioritize what is left to do, and remember the reason you are doing it. 
  • Constantly remind yourself that this, too, shall pass, and within a few weeks you'll be humming along with the rhythms of the school year.

What other tips do you have for surviving back-to-school busy? Please take a moment to share in the comments so we can all learn together.

Thanks for spending some of your precious time visiting my blog. Before you get back to work, take a deep breath! :-)

All original work in this post by Sandy Kendell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please see specifics on my re-use policy in the right-hand column of my blog before re-posting/re-using any of my blog content.